It’s been just about a year since I’ve come out, and I think it’s only now that I’m starting to feel normal again, after two months of summer school in another state, four months living abroad in a different country and immersed in a different language, and a year out of church. Yeah, I’m only starting to feel normal again now.

And what does “normal” really mean anyway, especially in this context? I guess you could say that I’m not really normal in any sense of the word. I’m a gay person of color who goes to a Christian university, is younger than everyone in his graduating class, and also happens to be the child of first generation immigrants. So, I suppose normal isn’t really the best descriptor of me to begin with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s taken a full year for me to start feeling like myself again, and feeling comfortable as myself again.

For a long while after coming out, I felt like I was trapped between two repelling magnetic poles. The church didn’t want me because I was an anomaly, unnatural, choosing sin, in need of healing, or whatever other spiritualized phrase they chose to describe me, and I certainly didn’t fit into the LGBT community because of my faith that many saw as being in direct opposition to identifying as LGBT. Even many of my closest friends weren’t immediately sure how to respond to me, which isn’t a bad thing. I know firsthand how complicated and difficult to navigate intersectional issues like this can be, but that didn’t keep it from being any less isolating or any less discouraging as I started out on that road. It felt like I didn’t quite fit into any of the spaces that I was accustomed to occupying, and I felt a little lost.

On top of that, I didn’t feel completely free to wrestle with the things that were spinning around me at the time. Even as I think about it now, I’m still not sure when I made some of the personal or theological decisions that I did, because it all sort of blends together in my mind. Still at a sort of fragile place, I wasn’t sure who I could talk to or externally process with, because I was still reeling from the shock of actually having come out to begin with. I didn’t know who or where my safe places were, and as a result, a lot of my processing got pushed down because I felt like I had to have everything figured out before I could talk to anyone about it.

How could I talk about a boy that I liked if I hadn’t even figured out if that was an okay thing yet? How could I talk about whether it was okay to like a boy if I was still shaky on whether it was even okay to be gay yet? I mean, how could I be sure that God really wouldn’t change me, even though that’s not a realistic option in 99.9% of cases?

Compounded with all of the things that I was trying to figure out in my own head, I also found myself on the defensive more than once. While well-intentioned I’m sure (for the most part anyway), it was hard not to take the questions that some raised as attacks in that nervous, beginning stage. For a while, I felt as if I had become an apologist, having to explain and reexplain everything that I believed, when I wasn’t even quite sure if I believed it that strongly yet. What about this verse? Or that passage? The questions went on and on, only contributing to the massive sensation of feeling stuck in a dark valley between two mountains where nothing was completely safe and worry was a constant companion.

I worried about what people thought of me all the time. After all, there I was, the rebel Christian, trying to say that being gay and being a Christian were compatible. And I worried about that too. What if I was wrong? What if how I interpreted the Bible and how I thought about all of these things was wrong? What if the mainstream church and Christian culture were right? Would I go to hell for it in the end? And being involved in visible leadership roles at a Christian university I wondered all the time if I would be stripped of those positions and asked to step down, lest I become a bad example for other students. When was I going to get called into some dean’s office to explain the entire situation? What would come of my decision to be open about this hot button topic?

Suddenly, I felt like I was always holding my breath, waiting for the ball to drop, or for the secret police to find me, or whatever other suspenseful plot device you can think of, and the driving force between all of that was simply my existence and my human experience. So, while I continued to write and express some overt views, other things started to shift around in the shadows. I quietly adopted a Side A perspective, sort of dated a guy for four months, and began supporting same-sex marriage all from the recesses of my mind where it was safe to do so. Yeah, a handful of people I trusted here and there were privy to these developments, but for the most part, they happened underground, where I wouldn’t have to defend my choices, my morals, or my faith to any random onlooker who wanted to raise a candle to my incomplete internal thought process.

Slowly but surely, I grew more and more comfortable with where I stood and I told more and more people about the paradigm shifts that I had experienced until I got to the point where I again lost track of who I had told and who I hadn’t. Concurrently to this nascent opening of myself again, I found myself abroad, living in a wonderfully historic Spanish city just an hour northwest of Madrid. There, the culture was looser, more liberal, and more accepting of everything in general, and I found that I could actually talk about things like this with my host mother. An artsy, theatrical (literally) woman, I remember her telling me (in Spanish, of course) that “the only thing that matters is whether they are a good person,” and that was so refreshing in such a subtle way that it took me off guard. There was no spiritualization of that statement, no theological argument backing it, no doctrine or dogmatic infusion, just that. It was a statement that said so much more to me at the time than she really could have understood or maybe ever will, but I believe that first conversation with her led to many more than would come to heal me in a way that I can only begin to fathom now, three and a half months back into the United States, where I’m once again forced to wrestle with the complex intersectionality of faith and sexuality. Those conversations with my Spanish actress mother placed me beneath a healing waterfall where all the spiritual and theological arguments and debates tied to my sense of self were gently washed away over the course of my four months in Spain, where I was implicitly told that regardless of what the church or other Christians told me, my feelings, my emotions, my desires, and every other sensation I experienced tied to this part of me were okay, were normal, were not in need of defense, and were nothing to be ashamed of. And for that part in my healing process, I will forever be grateful to the most wonderful host mother I ever could have had for my time abroad.

Stemming from that lowkey, but also intensive therapy period, I find myself where I am today, feeling normal again, at least by my own standards. All of a sudden I found myself denying the nonsensical notion that I had to choose one side of the binary and allowing myself to feel and be real again, rather than feeling like I was obligated to explain and justify myself to anyone who had a problem with me. I didn’t feel God pushing me into conversion therapy or celibacy, and I decided that was okay, because God isn’t binary. He doesn’t tell us to choose this path or that path and that’s all we get. Instead, He chooses to meet us where we are, wherever that may be.

And where I am is feeling normal again. What does that mean? I think to me, it means understanding that I can be comfortable as myself because I’m not going to be able to please everyone or satisfy everyone with a Biblical, theological argument and that’s okay. It means knowing that not everyone is going to agree with me on this, and that’s okay because I can’t control the way that other people are going to react to me and who I am. So why keep bending over backwards trying to appease everyone when I’m the only suffering from it?

To me, feeling normal is knowing and being confident that I’m right with God and letting that truth set me from all the other things that I was wrestling with when I began this journey. Because living in fear of possibly being wrong is not how God intended us to live our lives. Rather, I think that in the gray areas He wants us to press into Him, take hold of His hand and trust that He will guide us to the places where He wants us to be, regardless of whether those places line up with where the institution of the church or where other Christians think we should end up. Because in the end, walking with God isn’t about fearfully following a set of rules; it’s about embracing Him and saying that you’re going to tackle this mess of life together, loving as hard and as intentionally and as unconditionally as you can along the way.

So to me, feeling normal is also being assured that being gay and being a Christian are not two polar extremes, but rather they are two states of being that can coexist without causing inherent detriment to each other. And it’s being able to recognize and remember that all the emotions, feelings, tensions, and everything else that arises out of that intersection are valid and not in need of fixing or hiding, because all of those things are also normal. They show that we’re human and that we’re still alive.

Feeling normal is (in the vast majority of situations) not needing to think twice before saying something about a boy that I like, or dating, or anything else that might normally be an off limits or sensitive topic, because the way that those things get interpreted isn’t necessarily my responsibility to deal with and I should be able to talk about those things without worrying about whether or not I’ll offend them. It’s being able to act and talk like any other person without having any of it tied back to my sexuality or faith or their legitimacy or lack thereof. And it’s also feeling like I’m being treated like a normal person, which I do have the great fortune of, something that cannot be said in a lot of Christian circles unfortunately.

So, it’s been a year since I’ve come out, and I would be lying if I said I had known it would take this long to start feeling normal again. But I am, and I’m thankful for that. Though my journey has been rough, with many dark places along the way, I know that others’ paths have taken them along much more precarious turns, and I long for the day when that is no longer the case. Until then, I write to tell my story in hopes that it will end the cycle sooner, to inform, to educate, and to open eyes.

It’s been a year since I’ve come out; just the rest of my life to go.

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